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Matt Warren

Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff, and There Are Serious Problems. - 0 views

  • Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact.
  • This has been one of the most cited stats in the public debate during the Great Recession.
  • In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results.
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  • After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
  • They find that three main issues stand out.
  • First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth.
  • Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries.
  • Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries.
  • All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result.
  • Selective Exclusions. Reinhart-Rogoff use 1946-2009 as their period, with the main difference among countries being their starting year.
  • The paper didn't disclose which years they excluded or why.
  • Unconventional Weighting. Reinhart-Rogoff divides country years into debt-to-GDP buckets. They then take the average real growth for each country within the buckets.
  • this weighting significantly reduces the average; if you weight by the number of years you find a higher growth rate above 90 percent.
  • Coding Error. As Herndon-Ash-Pollin puts it: "A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis.
  • Being a bit of a doubting Thomas on this coding error, I wouldn't believe unless I touched the digital Excel wound myself. One of the authors was able to show me that, and here it is. You can see the Excel blue-box for formulas missing some data:

  • If this error turns out to be an actual mistake Reinhart-Rogoff made, well, all I can hope is that future historians note that one of the core empirical points providing the intellectual foundation for the global move to austerity in the early 2010s was based on someone accidentally not updating a row formula in Excel.
  • So what do Herndon-Ash-Pollin conclude? They find "the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0.1 percent as [Reinhart-Rogoff claim]." [UPDATE: To clarify, they find 2.2 percent if they include all the years, weigh by number of years, and avoid the Excel error.] Going further into the data, they are unable to find a breakpoint where growth falls quickly and significantly.
  • This is also good evidence for why you should release your data online, so it can be properly vetted.
  • But beyond that, looking through the data and how much it can collapse because of this or that assumption, it becomes quite clear that there's no magic number out there. The debt needs to be thought of as a response to the contingent circumstances we find ourselves in, with mass unemployment, a Federal Reserve desperately trying to gain traction at the zero lower bound, and a gap between what we could be producing and what we are. The past guides us, but so far it has failed to provide evidence of an emergency threshold. In fact, it tells us that a larger deficit right now would help us greatly.
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    "In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff released a paper, "Growth in a Time of Debt." Their "main result is that...median growth rates for countries with public debt over 90 percent of GDP are roughly one percent lower than otherwise; average (mean) growth rates are several percent lower." Countries with debt-to-GDP ratios above 90 percent have a slightly negative average growth rate, in fact."
Matt Warren

Magic trick transforms conservatives into liberals - 0 views

  • When US presidential candidate Mitt Romney said last year that he was not even going to try to reach 47% of the US electorate, and that he would focus on the 5–10% thought to be floating voters, he was articulating a commonly held opinion: that most voters are locked in to their ideological party loyalty.
  • But Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, knew better. “His calculation, only zeroing in on 10% of voters, is a risky proposition,” he says.
  • When Hall and his colleagues tested the rigidity of people’s political attitudes and voting intentions during Sweden’s 2010 general election, they discovered that loyalty was malleable: nearly half of all voters were open to changing their minds. The team's work is published today in PLoS ONE1.
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  • Hall’s group polled 162 voters
  • The person conducting the experiment secretly filled in an identical survey with the reverse of the voter's answers, and used sleight-of-hand to exchange the answer sheets, placing the voter in the opposite political camp (see video above).
  • No more than 22% of the manipulated answers were detected, and 92% of the study participants accepted the manipulated summary score as their own.
  • What is interesting about the latest study is that, on the basis of the manipulated score, 10% of the subjects switched their voting intentions, from right to left wing or vice versa. Another 19% changed from firm support of their preferred coalition to undecided. A further 18% had been undecided before the survey, indicating that as many as 47% of the electorate were open to changing their minds, in sharp contrast to the 10% of voters identified as undecided in Swedish polls at the time.
  • Eugene Borgida, a social and political psychologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is not surprised that some people changed their minds in the experiment. “We know that when you ask someone to explain their views, it tends to temporarily destabilize those views,” he says.
  • But Borgida wonders how durable the results would be. “I suspect if left alone these people would drift back to their baseline affiliation.” The team, he says, “may be overstating the proportion of people who are malleable”.
  • And after the trick was explained to them, many were pleased to find themselves not so hidebound by ideology as to be unable to even contemplate another point of view. But they still were often relieved that they were not supporting the wrong party
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    "'Choice blindness' can induce voters to reverse their party loyalty."
Matt Warren

Virtual Shackles - TLDR: EA Sucks - 0 views

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    Deconstructing EA's claims in light of the recent poll that EA is America's worst company. This also functions as a *fantastic* guide to some crucial critical thinking tools.
Matt Warren

How Bayes' Rule Can Make You A Better Thinker - 1 views

  • To find out more about this topic, we spoke to mathematician Spencer Greenberg, co-founder of Rebellion Research and a contributing member of AskAMathematician where he answers questions on math and physics. He has also created a free Bayesian thinking module that's available online.
  • Bayes’s Rule is a theorem in probability theory that answers the question, "When you encounter new information, how much should it change your confidence in a belief?" It’s essentially about making decisions under uncertainty, and how we should update or revise our theories as new evidence emerges. It can also be used to help us reach decisions in those circumstances when very few observations or pieces of evidence are available. And it can also be used to help us avoid common mistakes and fallacies in our thinking.
  • The key to Bayesianism is in understanding the power of probabilistic reasoning. But unlike games of chance, in which there’s no ambiguity and everyone agrees on what’s going on (like the roll of die), Bayesians use probability to express their degree of belief about something.
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  • When it comes to the confidence we have in our beliefs — what can be expressed in terms of probability — we can’t just make up any number we want. There’s only one consistent way to handle those degrees in beliefs.
  • In the strictest sense, of course, this requires a bit of mathematical knowledge. But Greenberg says there’s still an easy way to use this principle in daily life — and one that can be converted to plain English.
  • Greenberg says it’s the question of evidence which he should apply, which goes like this::

    Assuming that our hypothesis is true, how much more plausible, or likely, is the evidence compared to the hypothesis if it was not true?

  • “It’s important to note that the idea here is not to answer the question in a precise way — like saying that it’s 3.2 times more likely — rather, it’s to get a rough sense. Is it a high number, a modest number, or a small number?”
  • To make Bayes practical, we have to start with the belief of how likely something is. Then we need to ask the question of evidence, and whether or not we should increase the confidence in our beliefs by a lot, a little, and so on.
  • “Much of the time people will automatically try to shoot down evidence, but you can get evidence for things that are not true. Just because you have evidence doesn’t mean you should change your mind. But it does mean that you should change your degree of belief.”
  • Greenberg also describes Representativeness Heuristic in which people tend to look at how similar things are.
  • Greenberg also says that we should shy away from phrases like, “I believe,” or “I don’t believe.”

    “That’s the wrong way to frame it,” he says. “We should think about things in terms of how probable they are. You almost never have anything close to perfect certainty.”

  • “Let’s say you believe that your nutrition supplement works,” he told us, “Then you get a small amount of evidence against it working, and you completely write that evidence off because you say, ‘well, I still believe it works because it’s just a small amount of evidence.’ But then you get more evidence that it doesn’t work. If you were an ideal reasoner, you’d see that accumulation of evidence, and every time you get that evidence, you should believe less and less that the nutritional supplements are actually working.”

    Eventually, says Greenberg, you end up tipping things so that you no longer believe. But instead, we end up never changing our mind.

  • “You should never say that you have absolute certainty, because it closes the door to being able to revise your certainty in light of new information,” Greenberg told io9. “And the same thing can be said for having zero percent certainty about something happening. If you’re at 100% certainty, then the correct way of updating is to stay at 100% forever, and no amount of evidence can tip you.”
  • Lastly, he also says that probabilities can depend on the observer — what is a kind of probability relativity. We all have access to different information, so different people should assign different rates of probability to different things based on different sets of evidence.
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    "Having a strong opinion about an issue can make it hard to take in new information about it, or to consider other options when they're presented. Thankfully, there's an old rule that can help us avoid this problem - and even help us make good decisions when we're uncertain. Here's how Bayesian Reasoning works, and why it can make you a better thinker."
Matt Warren

Why I Hate Your Freedom - 1 views

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    "You can find more information about me at www.raikoth.net. This is the Non-Libertarian FAQ (aka Why I Hate Your Freedom)"

    One of the best things I've ever read about why *I* too am not a Libertarian. Gripping stuff.
Matt Warren

What Is Reasoning For? - 0 views

  • reasoning is designed more to help people persuade others, than to infer truth
  • Many of their critics, however, noted that reasoning could serve even more functions. Mercier and Sperber responded that such other functions were of only minor importance
  • So what might listeners of arguments be up to instead? As the critics above suggest, listeners could be trying to gauge speaker impressiveness, or the social support the speaker can muster in his or her conflicts. Also, listeners could be trying to figure out what they will say in response, in argumentation contests with many possible criteria for who wins. And argument listeners might try to gauge what positions will become accepted by a wider community, to help them decide what positions to personally support.
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    "People and institutions usually prefer to explain their behaviors in self-serving and self-flattering ways... back in April Mercier and Sperber published their theory that reasoning is designed more to help people persuade others, than to infer truth." From Overcoming Bias.
Matt Warren

Global Economic Downturn: A Crisis of Political Economy - 0 views

  • For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics.
  • The use of the term “economy” by itself did not begin until the late 19th century.
  • For classical economists, the political and economic systems were intertwined, each dependent on the other for its existence.
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  • The current economic crisis is best understood as a crisis of political economy.
  • Moreover, it has to be understood as a global crisis enveloping the United States, Europe and China that has different details but one overriding theme: the relationship between the political order and economic life.
  • the origin of the current financial crisis was the subprime mortgage meltdown in the United States.
  • To be more precise, it originated in a financial system generating paper assets whose value depended on the price of housing.
  • From the standpoint of economics, this was essentially a financial crisis: who made or lost money and how much.
  • From the standpoint of political economy it raised a different question: the legitimacy of the financial elite.
  • Think of a national system as a series of subsystems — political, economic, military and so on.
  • Then think of the economic system as being divisible into subsystems — various corporate verticals with their own elites, with one of the verticals being the financial system.
  • A sense emerged that the financial elite was either stupid or dishonest or both.
  • Fair or not, this perception created a massive political crisis.
  • There was a crisis of confidence in the financial system and a crisis of confidence in the political system. The U.S. government’s actions in September 2008 were designed first to deal with the failures of the financial system. Many expected this would be followed by dealing with the failures of the financial elite, but this is perceived not to have happened.
  • This generated the second crisis — the crisis of the political elite.
  • The Tea Party movement emerged in part as critics of the political elite, focusing on the measures taken to stabilize the system and arguing that it had created a new financial crisis, this time in excessive sovereign debt.
  • Its argument was that the political elite used the financial crisis to dramatically increase the power of the state (health care reform was the poster child for this) while mismanaging the financial system through excessive sovereign debt.
  • The sovereign debt question also created both a financial crisis and then a political crisis in Europe.
  • What had been a minority view was strengthened by the recession.
  • The European crisis paralleled the American crisis in that financial institutions were bailed out. But the deeper crisis was that Europe did not act as a single unit to deal with all European banks
  • There are two narratives to the story.
  • One is the German version, which has become the common explanation. It holds that Greece wound up in a sovereign debt crisis because of the irresponsibility of the Greek government
  • The Greek narrative, which is less noted, was that the Germans rigged the European Union in their favor. Germany is the world’s third-largest exporter, after China and the United States (and closing rapidly on the No. 2 spot). By forming a free trade zone, the Germans created captive markets for their goods.
  • Moreover, the regulations generated by Brussels so enhanced the German position that Greece was helpless.
  • Which narrative is true is not the point.
  • The point is that Europe is facing two political crises generated by economics. One crisis is similar to the American one, which is the belief that Europe’s political elite protected the financial elite. The other is a distinctly European one, a regional crisis in which parts of Europe have come to distrust each other rather vocally. This could become an existential crisis for the European Union.
  • The American and European crises struck hard at China, which, as the world’s largest export economy, is a hostage to external demand, particularly from the United States and Europe.
  • The Chinese government had two responses.
  • The first was to keep factories going by encouraging price reductions to the point where profit margins on exports evaporated.
  • The second was to provide unprecedented amounts of credit to enterprises facing default on debts in order to keep them in business.
  • This led to a second crisis, where workers faced the contraction of already small incomes.
  • The response was to increase incomes, which in turn increased the cost of goods exported once again, making China’s wage rates less competitive, for example, than Mexico’s.
  • China had previously encouraged entrepreneurs. This was easy when Europe and the United States were booming. Now, the rational move by entrepreneurs was to go offshore or lay off workers, or both.
  • In the United States, the first impulse was to regulate the financial sector, stimulate the economy and increase control over sectors of the economy.
  • In Europe, where there were already substantial controls over the economy, the political elite started to parse how those controls would work and who would benefit more.
  • In China, where the political elite always retained implicit power over the economy, that power was increased.
  • In all three cases, the first impulse was to use political controls.
  • In the United States, the Tea Party was simply the most active and effective manifestation of that resistance.
  • In Europe, the resistance came from anti-Europeanists
  • It also came from political elites of countries like Ireland who were confronting the political elites of other countries.
  • In China, the resistance has come from those being hurt by inflation
  • Russia went through this crisis years ago and had already tilted toward the political elite’s control over the economy.
  • Brazil and India have not experienced the extremes of China, but then they haven’t had the extreme growth rates of China.
  • But when the United States, Europe and China go into a crisis of this sort, it can reasonably be said that the center of gravity of the world’s economy and most of its military power is in crisis. It is not a trivial moment.
  • Crisis does not mean collapse. The United States has substantial political legitimacy to draw on.
  • Europe has less but its constituent nations are strong.
  • China’s Communist Party is a formidable entity but it is no longer dealing with a financial crisis.
  • It is vital to understand that this is not an ideological challenge.
  • Left-wingers opposing globalization and right-wingers opposing immigration are engaged in the same process — challenging the legitimacy of the elites.
    • Matt Warren
       
      This is why so much of American life seems like that proverbial puppet show. Politicians, at their basest, have a vested interest in portraying this as a problem between us-vs-them. It reflects heat.
  • The real problem is that, while the challenge to the elites goes on, the profound differences in the challengers make an alternative political elite difficult to imagine.
  • This, then, is the third crisis that can emerge: that the elites become delegitimized and all that there is to replace them is a deeply divided and hostile force, united in hostility to the elites but without any coherent ideology of its own.
  • In the United States this would lead to paralysis. In Europe it would lead to a devolution to the nation-state. In China it would lead to regional fragmentation and conflict.
  • These are all extreme outcomes and there are many arrestors.
  • But we cannot understand what is going on without understanding two things.
  • The first is that the political economic crisis, if not global, is at least widespread, and uprisings elsewhere have their own roots but are linked in some ways to this crisis.
  • The second is that the crisis is an economic problem that has triggered a political problem, which in turn is making the economic problem worse.
  • The followers of Adam Smith may believe in an autonomous economic sphere disengaged from politics, but Adam Smith was far more subtle. That’s why he called his greatest book the Wealth of Nations. It was about wealth, but it was also about nations. It was a work of political economy that teaches us a great deal about the moment we are in.
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    Classical political economists like Adam Smith or David Ricardo never used the term "economy" by itself. They always used the term "political economy." For classical economists, it was impossible to understand politics without economics or economics without politics. The two fields are certainly different but they are also intimately linked.
Matt Warren

The Mind-Reading Salmon: The True Meaning of Statistical Significance - 0 views

  • The p-value is an all-purpose measure that scientists often use to determine whether or not an experimental result is “statistically significant.”
  • The p-value puts a number on the effects of randomness. It is the probability of seeing a positive experimental outcome even if your hypothesis is wrong.
  • Many scientific papers make 20 or 40 or even hundreds of comparisons. In such cases, researchers who do not adjust the standard p-value threshold of 0.05 are virtually guaranteed to find statistical significance in results that are meaningless statistical flukes.
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    "If you want to convince the world that a fish can sense your emotions, only one statistical measure will suffice: the p-value."
Matt Warren

Theory of Knowledge (rationality outreach) - 0 views

  • It's called Theory of Knowledge, and it's offered at 2,307 schools worldwide as part of the IB Diploma Program.
  • For the record, I'm not convinced the IB Diploma Program is a good thing. It doesn't really solve any of the problems with public schools, it shares the frustrating focus on standardized testing and password-guessing instead of real learning, etc. But I think Theory of Knowledge is a huge opportunity to spread the ideas of rationality.
  • There isn't much in the way of standards for a curriculum, and in the entire last semester we covered less content than I learn from any given top-level LessWrong post.
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  • In retrospect, I think the best thing that could have been added would have been a discussion up front about how not to be confused about words. Some combo of the material in Disputing Definitions and Conceptual Analysis and Moral Theory. After that, something to undermine reliance on introspection and intuition more generally, perhaps in the context of presenting basic cognitive biases.
  • There are a lot of ways to make ToK good, and some of them don't look like LessWrong.
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    "The consensus seems to be that a class teaching the basic principles of thinking would be a huge step towards raising the sanity waterline, but that it will never happen. Well, my school has one. It's called Theory of Knowledge, and it's offered at 2,307 schools worldwide as part of the IB Diploma Program."
Matt Warren

Rand & Human Nature 3 - 0 views

  • The first strong hint that this might be the case was unconvered by Hume, who persuasively demonstrated that, logically speaking, it was invalid to derive an ought conclusion from two is premises.
  • in the absence of some desire, sentiment, or other natural and emotive need, no moral end could arise.
  • The second strong hint comes from George Santayana, who, in his demolishment of Moore's ethical philosophy (as limned by Russell) , noted that all arguments for morality committed the ad hominem fallacy
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  • The third strong hint was noticed, among others, by Pareto when, in his mammoth work investigating the relation between conduct and belief, Trattato di sociologia generale, he noticed that most moral philosophies were devoid of specific ethical content.
  • the purpose of moral philosophy is not to provide guidance
  • but to coddle and flatter human sentiments.
  • Scientific experiments on human behavior only serve to reinforce Pareto's hypothesis. What they demonstrate is that human beings develop a sense for morality well before they are ever exposed, or could even understand, abstract moral philosophy
  • When we apply these insights to the Objectivist ethics, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Rand's moral system, like the moral systems of so many other philosophers, consists almost entirely of the rationalization of moral ideals that existed well before any set of abstractions was built around them.
  • the strongest evidence of all consists in the rather surprising fact, unnoticed and evaded by most Objectivists, that Rand's ethical philosophy is devoid of specific content, and that no one could actually use it as a guide for behavior
  • Lacking a "technology" means that no Objectivist, including Rand herself, actually follows the Objectivist morality.
  • Other than a few vague hints, Rand and her disciples never bothered to explain how to distinguish those contexts in which such virtues as honesty, productivity, integrity, and rationality were absolutes from those contexts in which these fine virtues no longer applied.
  • If Rand's ethics were intended (as Rand insisted) to provide a manual for survival, how come the manual doesn't come with any instructions?
  • The most plausible explanation is that the Objectivist ethics is a rationalization of Rand's own moral preferences, many of which were the product of her own, private cognitive unconscious, which she misidentified with "reason" and objective truth.
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    "Moral Philosophy = Rationalization. There are convincing and powerful reasons to believe that nearly all that passes for what might be called exhortive, "normative" ethical philosophy is almost certainly rationalization."
Matt Warren

Rand & Human Nature 2 - 1 views

  • the conscious mind often seeks to rationalize what emerges from the unconscious.
  • Not only do we run alien subroutines [i.e., unconscious processes]; we also justify them. We have ways of retrospectively telling stories about our actions as though the actions were always our [i.e., our conscious mind's] idea.... We are constantly fabricating and telling stories about the alien processes running under the hood.
  • The chicken/shovel experiment led Gazzinga and LeDoux to conclude that the left hemisphere acts as an "interpreter," watching the actions and behaviors of the body and assigning a coherent narrative to these events.
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  • Researchers continually run across subjects who are obviously inventing stories about something they know little about. Whether man is in fact a rational animal, as Rand and her disciples always insisted, is doubtful; but he is very much a rationalizing animal.
  • If rationalization is pervasive, how can one know the truth?
  • Human beings have developed a number of counter-measures to circumvent the strong tendency to rationalization. The most powerful of these counter-measures is openness to criticism.
  • While the individual may not be very good at catching himself in that act of rationalization, he's often pretty shrewd when it comes to detecting it in others. Hence the development of institutions in science and scholarship that use peer review to arrive at truth.
  • While Rand may have been able to detect rationalization in others (which is not very hard), she appears to have been incapable of detecting it in herself.
  • Indeed, the biographical evidence strongly suggests that Rand was intensely committed to a vision of herself that excluded the possibility of rationalization, bias, or any other form of "irrationality."
  • Rand appears to have been strongly invested in the notion that she, unlike many other people, knew how to think rationally, and this meant she was right and everyone who disagreed her was wrong (and perhaps evil as well).
  • This frame of mind closed Rand off to effective criticism and shut up her mind in a series of self-reinforcing loops. Those most prone to rationalization are precisely those most invested in the belief that they are free of such intellectual vices.
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    Studies of unconscious brain processes (sometimes called "alien subroutines") reveals a curious phenomenon: the conscious mind often seeks to rationalize what emerges from the unconscious.
Matt Warren

Are You A Rand Cultist? Take Our Simple Test. - 1 views

  • 0 points = Congratulations, you are an Ayn Rand fan who while rightly inspired by her vision of productivity, reason, and human achievement is nonetheless sensible enough to have avoided her various cultic incitements.
  • 1-6 points = Amber light: definite Randroid tendencies.
  • 7-12 points = Ultra-Randroid, and proud of it. You are welcome to debate with us here at the ARCHNblog (despite the fact you would be giving your sanction to our evil by doing so) but to be honest you'd be better off talking to a deprogrammer.
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    "It's often hard to distinguish people who like Ayn Rand's books and find her work as a general inspiration from those who, at the other extreme, fit in with what Jeff Walker called the Ayn Rand Cult. So the ARCHNblog has created a simple litmus test to help tell the fans from the Randroids. The first three statements are from Nathaniel Branden's description of the original '60s cult, the rest are derived from Rand herself or various of her orthodox followers, such as Leonard Peikoff or Harry Binswanger, or from the ARCHNblog's own observations. Give yourself a point for every statement you agree with."
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    I was going to object to the "rightfully inspired by rational mind" stuff, but then you shared the aliens hand syndrome thing. Good. ;)
Matt Warren

Rand & Human Nature 1 - 0 views

  • An emotion is an automatic response, an automatic effect of man's value premises. An effect, not a cause. There is no necessary clash, no dichotomy between man's reason and his emotions -- provided he observes their proper relationship.
  • Rand's contentions in this paragraph not only go against the vast experience of mankind, which has found inner conflicts to be rooted in the very warp and woof of human nature, but of scientific brain research as well. A growing body of evidence compiled by neuroscientists suggests that the brain is made up of competing subsystems
  • There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain; each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior. As a result, you can accomplish the strange feats of arguing with yourself, and cajoling yourself to do something...
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  • the two hemispheres have somewhat different personalities and skills -- this includes their abilities to think abstractly, create stories, draw inferences, determine the source of memory, and make good choices in a gambling game.
  • the conflicts that arise out of this arrangement are hard-wired into the brain: they can't be reprogrammed by changing or "correcting" basic premises
  • In alien hand syndrome, which can result from the split-brain surgeries we discussed a few pages ago, the two hands express conflicted desires. A patient's "alien" hand might pick up a cookie to put it in his mouth, while the normally behaving hand will grab it at the wrist to stop it. A struggle ensues.
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    "Internal Conflicts Ineradicable. Rand's vision of the rational man contained a rather odd feature: he experienced no internal conflicts."
Matt Warren

Salt: More confirmation bias for your preferred narrative - 0 views

  • When it comes to health, it’s the hard outcomes we care about. We pay attention to measures like high blood pressure (hypertension) because of the relationship between hypertension and events like heart attacks and strokes. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk of these events. The relationship between the two is well established. So when it comes to preventive health, we want to lower blood pressure to reduce the risk of subsequent effects. Weight loss, diet, and exercise are usually prescribed (though often insufficient) to reduce blood pressure. For many, drug treatment is still required.
  • There is reasonable population-level data linking higher levels of salt consumption with higher blood pressure.
  • From a population perspective, interventions that dramatically lower salt intake result in lower blood pressure.
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  • the causality between salt consumption, and all of these negative effects, is less clear.
  • So does reducing dietary salt reduce cardiovascular events? That’s the key question.
  • When it comes to clinical practice guidelines, low salt diets are the mainstays of pretty much every set of guidelines on the management of high blood pressure.
  • The evidence supporting the relationship with hard outcomes is robust, but not rock-solid. We don’t have causal data, but we do have considerable epidemiologic evidence to suggest that reducing dietary salt consumption is likely to offer net benefits in the management of hypertension.
  • The vast majority of the salt we eat (75%) is from processed foods. Restaurants are a large source, too.
  • Few foods in their original state are naturally high in salt, and in general, we don’t add that much at the table.
  • Seven studies made up this meta-analysis, including 6,489 patients in total. Three studies looked at those with normal blood pressure, two included patients with high blood pressure, and one was a mixed population, including patients with heart failure. The overall effect? Interventions had small effects on sodium consumption, which led to small effects on blood pressure. There was insufficient information to analyze the effects on cardiovascular disease endpoints.
  • The authors go on to make the following point, which was ignored in the media coverage:

    Our findings are consistent with the belief that salt reduction is beneficial in normotensive and hypertensive people. However, the methods of achieving salt reduction in the trials included in our review, and other systematic reviews, were relatively modest in their impact on sodium excretion and on blood pressure levels, generally required considerable efforts to implement and would not be expected to have major impacts on the burden of CVD.

  • The authors did not conclude that reducing salt consumption is ineffective.
  • Despite the modest and equivocal results, the authors seem to have lost the narrative on their own research findings:

    Professor Rod Taylor, the lead researcher of the review, is ‘completely dismayed’ at the headlines that distort the message of his research published today. Having spoken to BBC Scotland, and to CASH, he clarified that the review looked at studies where people were advised to reduce salt intake compared to those who were not and found no differences, this is not because reduced salt doesn’t have an effect but because it’s hard to reduce salt intake for a long time. He stated that people should continue to strive to reduce their salt intake to reduce their blood pressure, but that dietary advice alone is not enough, calling for further government and industry action.

  • The true finding from the Cochrane review is that dietary interventions to reduce salt intake are largely ineffective at reducing salt consumption.
  • Until the data are more clear, you can find the data to support whatever narrative you believe. If you want to demonize salt and ignore other factors that contribute to poor cardiovascular outcomes, you can do that. And if you believe that interventions to reduce salt consumption are misguided and unwarranted, and symptomatic of an overreaching nanny state, then you can find data to support that position, too.
  •  
    "Judging by the recent press reports, the latest Cochrane review reveals that everything we've been told about eating salt, and cardiovascular disease, is wrong."
Matt Warren

Why Rand Never Lost an Argument - 0 views

  • The written evidence, such as it is, demonstrates no very great arguing skill on Rand's part. Quite the contrary, Rand, when she deigns to offer any sort of arguments at all, produces rather poor ones, afflicted with yawning gaps and blistering equivocations.
  • There are several factors which contribue to explaining this anamoly. Rand depended on at least five such factors to provide the varnish of irrefragibility over her otherwise hollow and empirically impoverished arguments.

      • Inability of individuals to evaluate the quality of arguments made on behalf of conclusions they agree with.
      • Intimidation tactics
      • Selection of debating opponents
      • Reliance on explicit articulation of views
      • Avoidance of empirical tests in favor of verbalism
  • ...25 more annotations...
  • (1) Cognitive science and experimental psychology have uncovered reams of evidence that people are not very good at evaluating arguments when they agree with the conclusions.
  • Devotees of Ayn Rand sincerely believe that the Objectivist metaphysics, although based on little more than empty tautologies and other such empirically vacuous truisms, represents the very acme of logical soundness.
  • People tend to believe what they want to believe
  • If only bad arguments are available, they will gravitate toward the best of the bad.
  • Most people become attracted to Objectivism when they are young and without experience either of the world or of philosophical arguments
    • Matt Warren
       
      This was my experience. Though quite intellectual (seeming) from a very young age, the fact of the matter was that binary, reductionist thinking was a very large part of my intellectual adolescence. I moved from fundamentalist Christianity, to strict Libertarianism, to strict Objectivism, before finally understanding it wasn't the *second* part of those labels that was the real problem - it was the first: fundaminalist... strict... strict...
  • Rand's Objectivist philosophy provides an intriguing set of rationalizations defending an extreme form of secular individualism and egoism coupled with common sense view of reality.
  • (2) For Rand, intimidation became central to maintaining her intellectual dominance over disciples.
  • I learned ... that it didn't pay to be confrontational with [Rand]. If I saw or suspected some inconsistency, I would point it out in calm and even tones, as if it were "no big deal." That way, she would often accept the correction and go on. To expose the inconsistency bluntly and nakedly would only infuriate her
    • Matt Warren
       
      This has been validated by other writings. Those of poorer stills with verbalization would be absolutely savaged by her.
  • Many of my patients used to tell me that they were terrified to ask questions because of the way Miss Rand might respond to them.
  • I remember many occasions when Rand pounced, assuming that a question was motivated by hostility to her or her ideas, or that the questioner was intellectually dishonest or irrational, or had evil motives, or was her "enemy."
  • A young man asked if her brief characterization of Immanuel Kant's philosophy was accurate, and she exploded that she had not come here to be insulted. I was surprised at the heated tone of her response because he was not antagonistic to her and he had, as I watched him, no glimmer of malice or "gotcha" in his eyes.
  • Rand's anger helped shield her from effective criticism. It encouraged her disciples to be extra cautious when asking questions, which led to many important doctrines in Objectivism remaining unchallenged.
  • Individuals tend to be rather poor at evaluating and criticizing their own beliefs. For this reason, criticism from others is essential for any philosophy that presumes to be rational.
  • Indeed, criticism from others is central to rationality.
  • Rand's refusal to allow herself to be effectively challenged renders her system irrational and dogmatic.
  • (3) Rand not only refused to engage in formal debates with other philosophers and intellectuals, she refused to have anything to do with the two groups which could have challenged her most effectively, namely, conservatives and liberatarians.
  • Her disdain for libertarians is both notorious and perplexing. The reasons for her disdain (which include such trivial reasons as her dislike for the word libertarian) strike one as contrived and superficial, as if they were mere rationalizations.
  • It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic.
    • Matt Warren
       
      And this is from a member of a movement that's been broadly sympathetic to the spirit, if not the letter, of Objectivism.
  • Rand's hostility (and the subsequent Objectivism policy to avoid libertarians because, as Peikoff once put it, Libertarians are worse than communists) gave her a pretext for avoiding the very group which could offer the most well-informed criticism of her Objectivist philosophy
  • Rand kept her distance from them, as she kept her distance from conservative intellectuals. By doing so, Rand was able to protect herself from just the sort of intellectuals who could have conquered her in debate.
  • Rand never lost an argument, not because she was a great debator, but because she never took on any challenging opponents.
  • (4) Many people do not know how to verbalize their basic beliefs.
  • Regardless of how poor Rand's actual arguments might be, the very fact that she could articulate her beliefs would give her a decisive advantage.
  • (5) In the absence of effective, empirical criticism, debates are determined by factors that have little, if anything to do with the truth.
  • Debates conducted without reference to effective empirical criticism become exercises in verbal facility, where the most aggressive, articulate, personable, and/or witty debator inevitably wins.
  •  
    "Sam Anderson, in a review of Anne Heller's biography of Rand, notes: "Eyewitnesses say that [Rand] never lost an argument." Given the poor quality of many of Rand's actual arguments, as one finds them embalmed in her writings, this is a bit of anamoly."

    You think? :) Another great ARCHN on July 19, 2011
Matt Warren

Rand & Aesthetics 20 - 2 views

  • It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world.
    • Matt Warren
       
      Quote by Rand
  • I suspect that this statement explains more about Rand's aesthetics than any of Rand's specific theories about art.
    • Matt Warren
       
      Which is at the heart of what passes for her methodology.
  • Now while anyone may have as narrow (or as wide) aesthetic tastes as they please, in a philosopher of aesthetics, such prejudices are deeply problematic. How can a philosopher provide insights on aesthetics applicable to all (or at least most) individuals when their tastes are so confined within the narrow bounds of their own narcissistic agendas?
  • ...6 more annotations...
  • Don Quixote is a malevolent universe attack on all values as such. It belongs in the same class with two other books, which together make up the three books I hate most: Don Quixote, Anna Karenina, and Madame Bovary.
    • Matt Warren
       
      A general rule of thumb: Any books Ayn Rand hates are very likely classics worthy of your attention.
    • Erik Hanson
       
      Where is the "like" button on that note?
    • Matt Warren
       
      Hah. Thanks. I know my Rand-bashing is probably old to some of my peeps. I try to keep most off the radar, but as a recovered Objectivist, this is all very cathartic.
  • And by implication, anyone who admires and enjoys these three novels is also evil. Rand was not content merely to state her own likes and dislikes, however narrow and prejudiced these might have been; but she also had to attack and disparage those whose tastes differed from her own.
  • In going through Rand's aesthetic judgments, one can't help noticing how often Rand conflates her personal tastes with objective truth
  • Her "Objectivist" philosophy is really the most subjective of philosophies. It's all about her: her tastes, her emotions, her wants, her needs, all writ large in platonic letters across the heavens.
  • The standard of truth and morality in Objectivism is not "reason" or logic or fact; it is Ayn Rand herself. What Rand said is true is true, despite what all the great thinkers and scientists said before her. What Ayn Rand said is good or evil is good or evil, regardless of whatever natural needs may exist elsewhere in the universe. This explains, perhaps more than anything else, why Objectivsm so quickly degenerated into an Ayn Rand personality cult.
  • Rand claim to found her philosophy on the axiom existence exists; but it is really founded on the (implicit) axiom that equates Rand's thoughts and judgments with objective truth.
  •  
    Succinct, scathing, and a hell of a read. It's Ayn Rand as the brooding teenager figuring the universe out via scribbling passionate post-its and arranging them on a corkboard.

    She had it all figured out...

    It begins: Art as "fuel." For Rand, one of the primary objectives of art was to serve as a kind of spiritual sustenance or "fuel"
Matt Warren

Misattribution of Arousal - 3 views

  • In 1974, psychologists Art Aron and Donald Dutton hired a woman to stand in the middle of this suspension bridge. As men passed her on their way across, she asked them if they would be willing to fill out a questionnaire. At the end of the questions, she asked them to examine an illustration of a lady covering her face and then make up a back story to explain it.
  • The scientists knew the fear in the men’s bellies would be impossible to ignore, and they wanted to know how a brain soaking in anxiety juices would make sense of what just happened.
  • they had their assistant go through the same routine on a wide, sturdy, wooden bridge standing fixed just a few feet off of the ground.
  • ...7 more annotations...
  • After running the experiment at both locations, they compared the results and found 50 percent of the men who got them digits on the dangerous suspension bridge picked up a phone and called looking for the lady of the canyon. Of the men questioned on the secure bridge, the percentage who came calling dropped to 12.5. That wasn’t the only significant difference. When they compared the stories the subjects made up about the illustration, they found the men on the scary bridge were almost twice as likely to come up with sexually suggestive narratives.
  • Arousal comes from deep inside the brain, in those primal regions of the autonomic nervous system where ingoing and outgoing signals are monitored and the glass over the big fight-or-flight button waits to be smashed.
  • Misattribution of arousal falls under the self-perception theory.
  • Arousal can fill up the spaces in your brain when you least expect it. It could be a rousing movie trailer or a plea for mercy from a distant person reaching out over YouTube. Like a coterie of prairie dogs standing alert as if living periscopes, your ancestors were built to pay attention when it mattered, but with cognition comes pattern recognition and all the silly ways you misinterpret your inputs.
  • The source of your emotional states is often difficult or impossible to detect. The time to pay attention can pass, or the details become lodged in a place underneath consciousness. In those instances you feel, but you know not why. When you find yourself in this situation you tend to lock onto a target, especially if there is another person who fits with the narrative you are about to spin. It feels good to assume you’ve discovered what is causing you to feel happy, to feel rejected, to feel angry or lovesick. It helps you move forward. Why question it?
  • The research into arousal says you are bad at explaining yourself to yourself, but it sheds light on why so many successful dates include roller-coasters, horror films and conversations over coffee.
  • There is a reason playful wrestling can lead to passionate kissing, why a great friend can turn a heaving cry into a belly laugh. There is a reason why great struggle brings you closer to friends, family and lovers. There is a reason why Rice Krispies commercials show moms teaching children how to make treats in crisp black-and-white while Israel Kamakawiwo’ole sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow. When you want to know why you feel the way you do but are denied the correct answer, you don’t stop searching. You settle on something – the person beside you, the product in front of you, the drug in your brain. You don’t always know the right answer, but when you are flirting over a latte don’t point it out.
  •  
    "The Misconception: You always know why you feel the way you feel.

    The Truth: You can experience emotional states without knowing why, even if you believe you can pinpoint the source."
Matt Warren

Ten Common Fallacies Everyone Should Know - 2 views

    • Matt Warren
       
      Yeah. Some of the others discussing this article had some valid nit-picks about some of these items. It coulda used another editing pass, but who am *I* to talk about that, right? :)
  •  
    Fallacies: Incorrect or misleading beliefs or opinions based on inaccurate facts or invalid reasoning.
  •  
    Note, of course, that a logical fallacy is not always a rhetorical mistake.
Matt Warren

Rand & Aesthetics 19 - 0 views

  • A certain type of confusion about the relationship between scientific discoveries and art, leads to a frequently asked question: Is photography an art? The answer is: No.
  • Beyond demonstrating her lack of specific knowledge about photography, this passage also shows the weakness of her theory of definitions. Much of Rand's argument against photography as art stems from her entirely arbitrary definition of art as "selective recreation."
  • There is no such thing as a right or wrong definitions: there are merely definitions excepted by most people and definitions accepted only by individuals or eccentric groups (e.g., Objectivist definitions).
  • ...3 more annotations...
  • She tries to defend this point of view by emphasizing the importance of selecting only those concretes that are "abstract essentials."
  • On purely philosophical grounds, therefore, Rand's assertion that photography is not art is insupportable. Yet, curiously enough, it's not even consistent with Rand's own definition. Rand's belief that art photography involves only an insignificant bit of selectivity demonstrates her ignorance of that particular art. It also demonstrates the dangers of making dogmatic assertions about subjects you don't know much about.
  • Photography, she claims, is mostly a technique; but the same could be said of painting and sculpture. The main difference between painting and photography is the tools: one creates images with paint, brushes, and canvas, the other with a camera, lenses, and filters. Otherwise, they are merely two means of achieving the same end: creating two-dimensional images.
  •  
    "Photography. Ayn Rand, to the bewilderment of photographers everywhere, denies that photography is an art"

    Par for the course, really.
Matt Warren

Learned Helplessness - 2 views

  • If, over the course of your life, you have experienced crushing defeat or pummeling abuse or loss of control, you learn over time there is no escape, and if escape is offered, you will not act – you become a nihilist who trusts futility above optimism.

    Studies of the clinically depressed show that when they fail they often just give in to defeat and stop trying.

  • Do you vote?

    If not, is it because you think it doesn’t matter because things never change, or politicians are evil on both sides, or one vote in several million doesn’t count?

    Yeah, that’s learned helplessness.

  •  
    Another great bubble bursting from David McRaney at You Are Not So Smart.

    "The Misconception: If you are in a bad situation, you will do whatever you can do to escape it.

    The Truth: If you feel like you aren't in control of your destiny, you will give up and accept whatever situation you are in."
  •  
    I wouldn't consider this the whole story. There's certainly a bad extreme to fatalism, but there's an alternate wrong in supposing that all things are achievable through fiat of will. A weakness of Classicism and PoMo may lie in resigning oneself to fate or the whims of complex systems, nut Modernism certainly had problems not only with those who successfully asserted their wills, but also in the psyches of the many who were unsuccessful supermen and were left to conclude that they must be inherently worse people.
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